Over the years, I’ve found that failures are often far more constructive than successes. The moment the rug gets pulled out from under you is probably when you truly consider any and all options in order to be upright and moving forward. It was exactly this sort of moment that gave birth to what would turn out to be, for me, the opportunity of a lifetime.
Having already spent a few years working with and investing in financial service companies in India, I was excited at the chance to move here and set up operations for Wonga, which was one of the world’s leading FinTech companies then. Almost 2 and a half years later, Wonga was closing its doors here and I was suddenly faced with the seemingly obvious choice of packing up my bags and going back to the UK. Although setbacks are part and parcel of entrepreneurial life, it’s not always easy to come to terms with them. Not to downplay the gravity of that event, but I faced little to no confusion about my course of action; Wonga was leaving India, but not me.
My love for India was more than a passing one and far more encompassing than that of a tourist’s. Moving here with Wonga, and staying here afterwards, were conscious decisions made on a path that had been laid out already. I had invested years in understanding the country’s people, economy and financial system, not to mention that system’s shortcomings. My work in the finance industry, both individually and in collaboration with certain people, had me convinced that at least two of these shortcomings could be tackled: accessibility and affordability.
Banks in India were and are still trapped by their infrastructure and frameworks when it comes to lending and credit. Their underwriting and processing of loans is heavily dependent on credit bureau scores, which can only be received upon taking out a loan while, simultaneously, you can’t get a loan without a score. As a result of this crippled financial system, the majority of Indian households, the very people who need a loan most, can’t get one since the existing system is in no position to determine how credit worthy they are.
My colleagues from Wonga, Ashish Anantharaman and Priya Sharma, and I were equally convinced that the existing financial institutions couldn’t address the gap between those with and without credit scores. Addressing it, however, wouldn’t be enough to differentiate us. The takeaway from our collective experience in the Indian FinTech market was simple. We needed to build a financial entity from scratch that a) could use cutting edge technology combined with financial know-how to evade the current system’s failings, b) would make a sustainable impact by promoting financial equity through affordable options while complying with all current and future financial regulations, and c) had consumer happiness at the centre of all it’s actions.
If movies are to be believed, the best ideas are worked on in garages and the same is true of ZestMoney (Ashish’s, to be precise). Unlike what movies show, it wasn’t built overnight. ZestMoney took years of tech work, credit research and most importantly, trust; trust that we were chasing the right idea, that we were doing it in the best way possible and that we were the right ones to be chasing it.
Though we’re chasing the dream to this day, many more now share that dream with us. Amongst all the growth we have seen over the past few years, what I’m most proud of is the team and work culture that Priya, Ashish and I have built that enables all of us to positively impact the lives of millions of customers across India on a daily basis. It takes this army of passionate, driven and diverse individuals to create a national change. It really makes me believe in the value which is at the core of everything we do at ZestMoney: EMI is for everyone.
And to think that it all started with a dead end. It just goes to prove that sometimes it takes a door closing to look for one to open.